Volleyball: Wildcats excited for home opportunities against top Big Ten foes

Sophie Mann, Photo Editor

Home court advantage could not come at a better time for Northwestern.

The Wildcats (10-5, 2-2 Big Ten) take on the No. 9 Ohio State Buckeyes (14-2, 3-1) and the No. 3 Penn State Nittany Lions (14-1, 3-1) this weekend.

The Cats will face one of the Big Ten’s top teams in the Nittany Lions, who lead the conference in hitting percentage and blocks.

Despite the fierce competition, NU has a force of its own with junior middle blocker Maddie Slater, who ranks in the Top 30 in the NCAA for hitting percentage.

Slater has her work cut out for her this weekend as she faces Penn State’s Haleigh Washington, who is No. 1 in the NCAA for hitting percentage, and the Buckeye’s outside hitting sensation Audra Appold, who was named both Big Ten Co-Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week this week.

Slater and the rest of the squad have been working to ramp up their intensity in practice to combat players like Washington and Appold.

“We’ve been doing a lot of drills to have a lot more intensity,” Slater said. “We know that will help us in the matches this weekend.”

Penn State has not gone on a conference road trip yet, but even with home court advantage, the Cats know they cannot slack in a conference like the Big Ten. Junior outside hitter Kayla Morin, who has the second highest number of points scored on the team overall, spoke about the importance of not letting up just because they will be playing at home.

“We were really cognizant of focusing on different skills,” Morin said. “It can be easy to focus on the matches, but improvement is something we always need to concentrate on.”

In another key matchup, redshirt senior libero Caroline Niedospial, who leads the Big Ten in digs per set, will be going up against Ohio State’s defensive specialist Valeria Leon, who is third in the Big Ten for digs per set.

Niedospial is a force to be reckoned with and says that the team has been stepping it up to bring more heat on the court, in addition to their continued work on their on-court communication.

“(We) definitely have been working a lot on serving more aggressively to get the other teams out of system, as well as hitting out of system balls more aggressively,” Niedospial said. “We have also worked a lot on connections between blocking and the defense behind the block.”

Although the last two disappointing games could have gotten the team out of its groove, the players are more driven than ever. Niedospial spoke about how excited she and her teammates are for their upcoming matches, not only because they will be at home, but also because they have a great opportunity to put their honed skills into practice.

Slater said that the two losses helped them regroup for their next two matchups, even if they were saddened by their performance. Slater said the team got its heads together to become more cohesive than it already is.

“We want to show everyone that we can be one of the elite teams in the Big Ten,” Slater said. “We’re ready to play.”

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